Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Movie Review - Star Trek Beyond

"I'm not a Trekkie, I'm just married to one" - my wife.

 If you read my blog (and thanks, if you do!) then you know that I am a Star Trek fan. I've been a fan since 1966. I don't have rubber pointed ears, nor am I a master of deep Star Trek trivia, but I'm a big fan just the same.

I liked the first two movies of the new series. I thought that they did a good job, with a clever premise to resurrect the series with a younger cast. I wrote in my review of Star Trek Into Darkness that the reviewers didn't seem to really get the movie.  I find that to be a problem in general with reviews of science fiction films.

I read 5-6 reviews of "Beyond" before we saw it today. I mostly agree with them and for the same reasons. There is a lot of action in this film, the Enterprise gets cut to ribbons, (not a spoiler if you've seen any of the trailers), and perhaps the rescue mission and getting a derelict starship to fly again were a little beyond (get it) belief, but the director and the writers got a lot right.

What they got right were the characters, and this was mostly what the reviewers liked. The emotional heart and soul of the original show was always the characters, not the techo-babble, not the aliens, not even the Enterprise. Gene Roddenberry knew that right from the start. The producers of this series know that as well, and they do an exceptional job with the characters here.

A lot of Roddenberry's vision of a peaceful future shows through here as well. The central bad guy, Krall (played by Idris Elba with 20 pounds of rubber on his face) hates the Federation.  He says "Your Union is what makes you weak". But Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise use their union as a crew to defeat him.

I also thought that the main story was resolved very well. Why does Krall hate the Federation so? It's not at all revealed in the trailers but it's a good, and believable, story. Also several character stories get resolved. Kirk, wondering what he's doing out in space; Spock, having to choose between his Vulcan heritage or staying with the Enterprise; the Spock-Uhura affair. Good, good, and good.

Some of the trailers show some fantastic architecture. These shots take place on Yorktown, a Federation built city in space, built into a sphere. You only get a glimpse in the trailers but the scenes of it in the movie are almost breathtaking.

Here's just one example of where the reviewers just don't get it. This is a minor spoiler if you haven't read any reviews. How did the the Enterprise crew use the Beastie Boys to destroy the alien drones? The reviewers were mystified. It was explained, with a lot of techo-babble to be sure, but it was explained. And the bit was set up much earlier in the movie. Dr. McCoy "Is that clasical music?" Spock, after a pause "I believe it is, Doctor".

Monday, July 25, 2016

1988 Topps Big

I pulled a sealed pack of 1988 Topps Big from a recent repack. Topps Big had a 3-year run from 1988-1990. I don't ever remember seeing them for sale. Did you collect these when they were new? Ten years or so ago I bought a box of the 1990 product, so I have quite a lot of those. I only had 4 of the 1988 set, all of which (three are Phillies, the other an Astro) acquired via trade.

The card clearly takes its design idea from 1956 Topps. All three years of the set have the same basic design, a head shot and a smaller action shot. The only real difference from year to year were the cartoons on the back. 1988 had three, 1989 had two and 1990 had only one.

Being called Topps Big you may suspect that they are bigger than 'normal' sized cards. They are about 1/4" longer on each edge. That means they won't fit in a penny sleeve and are usually too wide for a 9-pocket page.

The cards in this pack have not fared well even the pack was unopened. The cards are glossy on the front, but now the gloss is a bit tacky. And the cards have yellowed. The pack was unopened but not exactly air tight. I used some Photoshop magic to clean up the images. Here's what this card looked like right from the scanner.

I'm assuming they were really white when new. Here are the other 5 cards from the pack.

 Except for the size, and the yellowing, they are pretty nice cards. They are colorful, feature a classic design and goofy cartoons. What more do you want, anyway?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

1991 Topps Instant Win Game

In addition to cards from each set, I like to keep a copy of whatever promotion the card company was running with the set. In a recent repack I pulled an unopened pack of 1991 Topps. For whatever reason I didn't have any of the promo cards from this set. Problem solved!

Topps promo cards for several years before this, looked pretty much the same, but the prize you could win was different. 1991 was their 40th anniversary (also my 40th birthday), and Topps packed a random card from their 40 years of sets in packs, at a 1 in 1,000 ratio. I bought a fair amount of 1991 Topps but never got one of these inserts.

If you pulled a promo card with a number starting with an X, you were an instant winner and by sending in the promo card, you got some random card. You were also entered into a drawing for the Grand Prize and Second Prize.

If you didn't get an Instant Win promo card, you could still send in the promo card, or a 3x5 index card.

The Grand Prize was pretty sweet, a complete set for each of the 40 years of Topps production. In 1991, Topps said that this prize had an approximate value of $125,000. With inflation and a probable increase in value, just the 1952 Topps set is worth $65,000 today (according to the last issue of Beckett I saw earlier this year).

The second place prize was a complete set of Topps from some random year. There would be 6 second place prizes. I imagine you were more likely to get a 1989 set of Topps rather than a 1952 set.

These types of contests were illegal in Canada, and there was usually some arithmetic quiz for Canadians to pass in order to enter. The tests were something like 3 + 5 = x. Oddly, the 1991 contest was only open to US residents, no Canadians need apply.

That tiny print was a lot easier to read with my 40-year-old eyes in 1991.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Movie Review - Ghostbusters

Who you gonna call?
No matter how much you think the original "Ghostbusters" movie is some sort of holy writ, you owe it to yourself to see the new movie. If you're one of the 3 or 4 people who haven't seen the original, you should see it too. It's similar to the original, in fact, much of the set up is very similar, but the reason for the ghosts menacing New York is different, but satisfactory. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig are well known and do a fine job. McCarthy plays her part a bit more subdued (although in no way actually subdued) then we've seen her before, and Wiig does a good job playing the normal person who's wandered into some kind of insane alternative reality. Her mooning over Chris Hemsworth was classic. Kate McKinnon, who we've never seen before, was fabulous as the Holtzmann character, playing the character with a barely contained insanity. Leslie Jones, who we also did not know, was pretty much a caricature, but that's the part and she did it well. Chris Hemsworth, as the ditzy secretary, was a comic revelation.

We saw the movie in a pretty full house, and there's nothing better than a joke which makes a theater full of people laugh. There were plenty of them.

Are there problems with the movie? Have you ever seen a movie without problems? The trick is to make a movie where the problems don't overwhelm the audience. My only serious problem was the rather wanton destruction of parts of New York City in the climatic final battle. Hasn't New Your suffered in enough movies? And I though they overplayed the slime. We knew it was coming so it wasn't a surprise like in the original, so they should have used it less.

All of the still living main actors from the original (with the exception of Rick Moranis) had cameo appearances, which the audience loved.  There were also a number of well-played homages to the original. I haven't seen the original in ages so I probably missed some.

You should plan to stay through the entire credits, which thankfully, aren't real long. Beginning of the credits featured a dancing Chris Hemsworth (another revelation). He's fully clothed but comes across as the best Chippendale dancer ever. At the very end is a teaser for a possible sequel.

When I first heard they were doing a re-make of "Ghostbusters" with a female cast I wasn't too interested. Not because it was going to have a female cast, it was because I figured it would end up being a pale imitation. I'm glad I saw it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

2016 Stadium Club - First Pack

2016 Stadium Club has finally arrived in my corner of SE Texas. I got 2 blasters and 2 rack packs at Walmart the other day.

I've liked the past 2 years of this product and I think I like this year the best. Here's what I pulled from the first rack pack I opened.
Pretty simple design. I have a slight quibble that the silver foil on the front can be a little hard to read depending on the photo. It scans really well however. The cards have a nice silky gloss that I really like on a card. The backs are pretty simple. Topps is the set you got for if you like a lot of stats on the back. Stadium Club you buy for the design and the photography. I'm really happy to see that they did not include any photographic tricks on the front like the smoke or haze or whatever on Topps.

There seems to be a nice selection of retired players. In my, probably, never ending complaint over Topps reusing photographs, I think the back photo here is the same they used 2014 Gypsy Queen.

Good action shot.

Have you ever heard a baseball player talk about the 'job' of baseball. You know, stuff like "I've got a job to do and I work at it as hard as I can". Here's the difference between playing baseball and a job. Before i retired, i had a job I liked and I worked at it as hard as I could. But when we had a great success at work, what is depicted on this card never happened. Not once.

Melvin with the cool shades. A question, should I go back to all the B. J. Upton cards in my catalog and change is name to Melvin?

I like cards that feature baseballs in flight. Leaving the pitchers hand, leaving the batter's bat, landing in a glove, whatever.

Another flying baseball.

Another retired player in the pack. If there had been a rookie card in the pack I'd have had an example of all the subsets for my reference set.

Half of the cards in this 12-card pack featured horizontal cards. I wonder what the proportion is for the set as a whole?

Another indication that baseball is not a 'job'. I mean we had some fun around the office, but not like this.

It wouldn't be a modern baseball set if it didn't have parallels. Here's the Gold parallel. Actually, Stadium Club doesn't have all that many parallels.

As they did last year, some way longer ago players are featured on black and white cards. I was originally  hoping that this was one of the Black and White parallels but of course, it's not.

All in all, a pretty satisfying.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

1990 Upper Deck printing error

If you collect enough baseball cards you become aware of printing errors. Most are not that interesting but every once in awhile, I see something that attracts my attention.

I found a pack of 1990 Upper Deck in the repack box I wrote about yesterday. I found this card.

For one thing, this card has some condition issues. Every other card in the pack was perfect but this one has white spots scattered in it, most noticeable on the back. Now compare the image of the back from my scan to this image of the back I got from
Look in the lower right.

I've never seen something quite like this. I'm guessing it's a tiny piece of lint on the red printing plate.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Repack box finds

I bought a 15-pack repack box distributed by On the box it says "The Big Find - A Ty Cobb 1909-1911 T206 Card!" Good luck with that.

2005 Donruss Throwback Threads
 Donruss/Leaf had several sets back then with similar look. I had bought a blaster of this which had yielded 40 cards. That's 50 cents/card. Kind of a lot back in 2005 for a nondescript set. The best card in his pack is this Mike Mussina card as I collect him and didn't have this card.

2013 Panini Cooperstown Colgan's Chips
A set composed of Hall of Famers can be a good idea. 2012 Panini Cooperstown was such a good idea. 2013 Panini Cooperstown, was not so good. The cards were kind of mud colored and just unattractive. I had bought one blaster and was disappointed, as I had liked the 2012 set. Of the four regular cards in the pack, I already had 2. Man, I hate that. The set also included these disks, 165 of them. I don't really care for them, but this one has Steve Carlton so it's OK with me.

2013 Panini Cooperstown Lumberjacks
And then there was this. Wood veneer on card stock. There were a spate of this type of card in the mid 1990s but I don't remember seeing any like it recently. Just about every card in this 24-card set is available on eBay from $1.50 to $10 depending on the player.

Out of 15 packs and about 200 cards, these were the most interesting. The rest of the packs are the usual collection of sets like 1991 Upper Deck, 1989 Topps and 1990 Fleer you're used to seeing. I'm sure there are some other unexciting cards in the box I need however.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Book Club - June 2016 Reading List

Seven books this month with, for me, a wide variety of subjects.

I've read several books by Kate Atkinson before but this was unlike those books. They were in the British detective genre, this is much harder to categorize. The story is about Ursula Todd, born in a country home in England in 1910, but she dies in childbirth. Due to the snowstorm going on at the time, the doctor who could have saved arrived too late. Sounds like this would be a pretty short story, but on the next page, Ursula is born again and this time the doctor does arrive on time. And so it goes, Ursula grows a little older and then drowns at the sea shore. She's born again and a man on the beach saves her. As Ursula gradually gets older, she starts to recognize situations of danger, a situation in which she once died and instinctively does something different and survives. It's an interesting book, a look at how a life can turn out differently depending on the outcome of events we can't control and some we can. I very much enjoyed the book, although I'm not sure what Atkinson was really trying to tell me. In the end, Ursula lives a pretty ordinary life.

I saw this 2014 book mentioned in a political blog I read and thought it sounded interesting. Apparently I tried reading it once before because the first 5 pages were very familiar. But I must have given up on it before. I stuck with it this time. The author ties the historical record (such as it is) and archeological evidence to advance the premise that several large and prosperous empires that existed prior to this time, were either destroyed or brought low by a combination of factors such as foreign invasion, weather, and geological events. It's a good story although I don't have nearly the background to understand if his theory is any good. The book is getting generally good reviews on Amazon.

The latest Lincoln Rhyme novel. I promise that I won't read another. It seems that Lincoln has resigned his consulting job for the New York City Police and is now teaching forensic science at a local college. He takes on a civil case as a side job. By coincidence, Amelia is working a criminal case which intersects the same case. The central story was kind of interesting, a serial killer who figures out how to hack 'smart' appliances to kill people. Even his motivation was OK. But Deaver apparently couldn't figure out how to stretch this story into an entire book. So we have 3 subplots. One involves Amelia's apprentice Ron Polanski which was completely pointless. Another has a former lover of Amelia's, a former cop like her, who has been in jail for the past 7 years for his involvement in a crime (it really doesn't matter what the crime was). Trust me, Amelia, I didn't do it and with a little help from you I can prove it. But (major spoiler) he did do it and Amelia, by means by no way apparent to the readers of the book, figures this out. And the 3rd is about a student of Rhyme's who he agrees to take on as an assistant. She was actually a good character, but a big reveal about her near the end of the story almost made me throw the book across the room.  Unless you love Lincoln Rhyme beyond all rationality, I'd recommend you skip this.

Donaldson generally writes fantasy with some hard core science fiction novels thrown in for good measure. I don't generally read fantasy because I've already read the two best fantasy series ("The Lord of the Rings" and Donaldson's Thomas Covenant stories), but I make an exception for other Donaldson fantasy. As the cover says, this is two novellas. The first "The King's Justice" was pretty good. The guy on the cover is The King's Justice. He's been sent to a small town on the edge of the kingdom to bring justice there for the ritualistic murder of a young boy. Bad magic is involved and he must not only find the wielder of this magic but destroy it, and probably be killed himself in the process. The second story "Auger's Gambit" is about a guy who reads entrails, set in an entirely different place than the first story. I couldn't get past the first 10 pages. Sorry.

This is another Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) that I got for free from It's about the ever changing way the National Park Service manages the parks and the animals in them. It mostly concentrates on the bears and elk of Yellowstone with forays into Glacier and Yosemite National Parks. It uses the story of a 24-year-old man who was killed by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone in 1972 and who's parents sued the government in 1975. I visited Yellowstone in 1977. After reading this book, I think what we heard about bears while we were there was, at best, misleading. It's an interesting book but not a great book. It is full of typos, missing words, repeated sentences, etc., all signs of poor editing. I'm hoping all that got fixed before publishing. It's also poorly organized. But here's one thing I learned that I didn't know. When we were in Yellowstone we were warned not attempt to feed the bears and to lock up our food in our campsites by keeping it in our car. What I didn't know was that bears had been living on human food (mostly garbage thrown away at the various lodges in the park) for generations but it recent years the park started cutting back on that practice, forcing the bears into campsites looking for food. The other thing I learned is that bears know that we store our food in our vehicles and they have no trouble opening up a car like a sardine can to get the goodies inside.

 Ben Bova is an accomplished science fiction writer with 6 Hugos (one of SF's highest awards) to his name but his book is a mess. A small crew is dispatched to a star some 8 light years away to check out what appears to be a completely earth-like world. The story starts some time in the future when global climate change is causing vast problems on Earth. The story picks up after the 80 year journey, when they arrive at New Earth. They find that New Earth already has a small colony of 100% humans living on it, who have been waiting for a 1,000 years for us to arrive. These human aliens have bad news. the two black holes at the center of the galaxy have exploded and we're all gonna die. How the aliens know this is pretty sketchy since they don't seem to have faster than light capability. That's just one of the hard to accept concepts in this book. It's the first book of a trilogy but I won't be reading the rest. Life is too short.

This is a very short anthology which contains a couple of short stories, a political polemic and an interview with the author. I liked the entire book but I'll concentrate on the title story "Gypsy". In many ways, this story has the same plot as Ben Bova's "New Earth". The world is a mess. But there is no New Earth, just a small band of determined people who by working together, in secret, manage to build a ship in Earth orbit that has the capability to travel to Alpha Centuri, our closest neighbor. But unlike Bova's book, this is all about the trip, on a ship with technology which is barely adequate for the trip, and in some cases, just not adequate enough. It is a desperate story as one by one, individual crew members are woken by the ship to handle problems not programed into the ship's computer. Severe problems, like, the original propulsion wasn't enough so they are going slower than planned; something hit them, causing them to lose some of their stored hydrogen they will need to slow down when they get to their destination; the sleep hibernation system they invented for the trip isn't working as well as they hoped. Very good read, if a bit depressing.